Falling Hard in Maine

   

   I summited Mt Katahdin a month and four days ago and entered into the 100 mile wilderness not sure what to expect but happy to be back where I belonged on the trail. I wound up with someone I connected with easily on the Pacific Crest Trail last year, which was fitting, as I began the AT with someone I connected with easily on the PCT last year.     The last post I wrote described my first week in Maine. I began what’s called a flip-flop, meaning that instead of straight northbounding, I began a southbound to return to the place where I was first injured and left off. Thru hiking is pretty funny, people create all kinds of crazy rules regarding what a “true” thru hike consists of, what skipping miles means, what hitching a ride is, so fourth and so on. When I hiked the PCT I suppose I was more rigid. The beginning of the AT was similar. I skipped zero miles and wouldn’t dream of flip flopping. I was stubborn and didn’t want to patch my thru hike together. I couldn’t imagine finishing unless it was at the top of Katahdin after a long struggling, self discovering journey ever north. Before I was injured time and miles were huge, I was constantly reconfiguring my zero days to see just how much fun I could afford to have. In doing so, I think I was almost certainly missing the point of (my) thru hike. I was enjoying my surroundings and enjoying my trail family, but I was never able to fully let go, do however many miles I wanted. If I saw a beautiful place and wanted to stop to just be there and had only gone 5 miles, I was not really allowed to partake. I had to keep going. After my injury, I suppose I had freedom to take my time. My partner, becoming a massive influence on me, gave me even more freedom, the freedom to just relax, to actually enjoy the trail. 

  
  I speak of the trail as if we are in a relationship, because we are. I have idolized it, romanticized it, talked it down. I’ve been on it and with it and it has become my backbone. I feel that taking my time over the past month with it has given me a fully different perspective. I have the room to properly understand my love for it. And it has truly felt the exact same as falling in love. My partner often instigates our staying at a beautiful lake to swim. He nods his head in approval when I suggest a nap after lunch. He offers the option of lounging around on a summit all day to watch the sun set and to sleep there to watch the sunrise even though we’ve only done 5 miles for the day. This respect for where we are and this ability to let our minds and bodies interact with the trail without breaking our backs or rushing through terrain is some of the most beautiful experiencing of life I’ve given myself the opportunity to have. The terrain is challenging still and as I approach the White Mountains will become more so. To be able to let myself go slower allows me to become stronger without wearing myself down. It gives me a chance to see every tiny world unfolding in the forest. When I stop to get water I can look for as long as I want at the life teeming around the stream, river, pond or spring. As I climb I can focus on my breathing, freeing myself of pain, fear, anger and sadness and really opening myself to happiness. I am able to focus on the green, moist world around me. The forest feels like it is breathing life into me now, instead of sucking it out. The more time I take to swim in ponds and waterfalls and to lay on the ground under the exploding night sky, the more in love I fall with the trail. I find myself giving thanks when the trail is particularly smooth. I curse less when it is challenging. I look forward to seeing what is around as I open my eyes in the morning. I am always curious to see what the trail has to offer day in and day out and feel such an intense sense of gratitude that I am brought to tears on occasion. The moss is so vibrant, the roots that trip me up are old and massive and wandering to keep the trees above alive and tall. The forest feels safe and all enveloping now. It keeps the cool air in and as dusk approaches, it feels mysterious and quiet. Toads jump awkwardly in front of my feet, reminding me that there is a little world very much alive everywhere and to pay attention. Grouse and pheasants are strutting their stuff as they seek mates and they flap in flight to escape us as we walk by, their wings sounding and feeling like my heart beating in my chest. Autumn light is just beginning to make it’s way through the trees, golden buttery glowing autumn deliciousness. The air at night is beginning to chill and the night sky is becoming ever sharper. Sunset begins it’s onslaught sooner, and sunrise seems longer. The trail just becomes more beautiful as the seasons change. Soon enough the leaves will change, creating a fireworks like display of exposing colors of foliage. 

   
   
Maine has been such an expansive world of lakes (or ponds as they call them), bogs, mud, roots, massive trees, little pines in new growth forests, pine needle floors, big electric blue skies, rugged wilderness so intimate and so unexplored, it has been hulking mountains, bald granite peaks, dense secret dark fern filled forests. I have swam in ponds, waterfalls, cascades and rivers. I’ve camped on the beach and built a fire at twilight, I’ve laid on my back on the forest floor and watched the stars begin their morse code of twinkling as my partner talked quietly to me, making me laugh and realize how small I am in this whole damn universe deal. I’ve cried in defeat as I climbed, as I painfully descended. I’ve watched tiny bugs moving about in the massive world they wander in. I’ve fallen face first over and over, bloodying my knees, bruising my arms. I’ve listened to the wind in the trees and it sounded for all the world like a rushing river. I’ve been reborn a million times over out here. Touching everything I can, breathing in some of the best air you can imagine, being held and embraced and touched by the best lover I’ve ever shared time and space with (the trail). For the first time in my life I am so lucky to be ever present. Here. Now. I do not think about the future. I do not feel guilty. I feel thankful and drunk with love and appreciation. I have met some of the most beautiful people and jumped naked into a lake with two people id just met as the day was ending, and we swam to a spot and told each other out fears. We only get to do this once folks. We have to feel all of it, not be scared, embrace it. We have to really truly enjoy what we are given. 

   

  

  

   I’m so very lucky to have the partner I’ve had the past month and hopefully for longer. I know I already possessed my freedom and gratitude, but he’s given me the ability to really believe in all of my daydreaming. He reminds me that my imagination is not only accessible, but a reality. He reminds me to love myself as much as I love everyone else. His attitude and positivity come from the most genuine place I’ve ever seen. He is self assertive yet selfless and takes care of me. He’s helped me to accept my weaknesses and to see my strength and beauty. He also literally makes me laugh all day every day. I’ve had the great opportunity to share space with some of the most amazing human beings on the planet but he takes the cake. This past month has been quite a learning curve for me. And the more I allow myself to fall in love with the trail, the more ok I am with how vulnerable it makes me. The more ok I am with myself. The more I’m ok with those things, the more I can understand and access the deep connection and love my surroundings are trying to provide. Having someone to expand and share that experience with is other worldly. In a sense I’ve been in some strange meditative state, I’ve been time traveling. I’ve been inside and outside of my heart and brain and guts, and the trail has infiltrated me. I feel as though we are beginning to have a symbiotic relationship. And I feel lucky. 

   
   
    I’ve got 30 miles of Maine left. I’m almost scared to leave the state. New Hampshire is massive, huge climbs, scary mountains, unforgiving descents, moody and unpredictable weather. Yet it is the crown jewel, it’s expansive, jaw dropping, open and raw. I suppose I can only feel excited, scared, full of the rush and vulnerability of giving into the trail all of the way. This is not just my home out here. This is my reality, my world. I’m so lucky to be in it every day. It just keeps teaching and pushing and pulling. I’m further and deeper into it all of the time. Right here is where I belong right now. 
  

The Longest Way Back Home

  
(Summit of Katahdin) 

      It’s been so long and I genuinely apologize. I’ve started a blog over and over since I’ve been off trail but just honestly couldn’t bring myself to write.    I’m in Carratunk Maine, procrastinating so bad it’s driving me batty. I feel as though I’ve been sucked into an alternate universe this summer. Nothing has been working as planned, and somehow, I think that’s the plan. I feel as though I’m stuck in mud, my brain mush, my path completely and utterly foggy. I want to articulate to you everything, to explain where I’ve been, what I’ve been doing and seeing . It’s now been 2 months and two weeks since I’ve broken my foot. I’ve been off and on the trail.

   

 

( stupid broken foot)   

       Lifetimes seemingly have passed since the last entry. I did my time in Philadelphia trying to heal, I returned to the trail much too soon with a still broken foot and attempted to keep going. I walked the entire state of New Jersey in pain and utter ecstasy. My first return to the trail was heartbreaking and just plain stubborn. I wanted so bad to return home to the forest. I wanted to will my foot to be better. I wanted to override the injury with the power of my mind, the passion in my chest- the sheer want to be where I thought I HAD to be, DESERVED to be. The trail always wins and so it carves it’s own path for you. At least that’s what it feels like. 

  

  

  •     (Hiking alone in New Jersey)

       My first day back out (the first time), I crossed the Delaware River into New Jersey. I was the closest on trail to my actual home and I felt so good to be walking away. To be going north. To know that I’d be back into the comfort of the green tunnel, away from the concrete, away from the hustle, the bustle, the pulsating oppression of the city. As soon as I entered the forest I felt alive and happy. The coolness of the air in the trees made the sweat on my body feel like a sheen of some kind of positive force field. I saw my first water source and filtered from the cold stream. I walked on the dirt, over rocks and even though each step was painful I refused to believe I’d have to leave again. I could hear the chatter of birds, the rustling of leaves , the uneven crunching of dirt and debris under my feet. It was also my first time really being alone on the Appalachian Trail. I had a feeling I’d never felt before as I hobbled along, it was a sincere feeling of peace and of calm. I did not feel rushed. There was no want or need, no nothing. I could hear my breathing as I walked. I was out of shape but didn’t care. I fumbled over rocks, fell often and decided not to listen to the throbbing stabbing pain as I put my left foot down each time. In my mind I was not getting off trail again. I couldn’t. I wouldn’t. It wasn’t an option. 

   (I was lucky enough to hike with Boots for much of New Jersey. A great human being with a great attitude)

   (The woods in New Jersey) 

       After three glorious days of spending time with some of the most beautiful people and of lying to myself about my level of pain and discomfort I realized I had to stop. I was lucky enough to hike a few miles with my trail partner yogi. I hugged him goodbye, so sad I wouldn’t be hiking with him again on the trail and made my way to a place in the woods that I knew I could relax. 

   
         

  •           (The Jim Murray property in New Jersey) 

    I was lucky enough to rest at the Jim Murray property for a day. I spent most of the day alone and I simply sat, listening to the breeze in the trees, watching the light change, falling asleep on and off and only letting my brain scan do what it does best, surf through memories, people, experiences and then onward to something close to a future plan. I sincerely had no idea what to do next. I knew that I was going to run out of money if I just sat there for the time it would take to actually heal. I also knew I’d go crazy just sitting there. I knew I needed to find something, make something, DO SOMETHING. I didn’t want to go back home to philadelphia. I wanted so bad just to stay on the trail, but for the second time, the trail was spitting me out. Telling me no. Making me feel like I just wasn’t worthy. I had no real choice. I had to leave. I accepted that reality and roughly an hour after letting it settle in my heart I recieved a text from a good friend of mine. By the next day I had a temporary job with housing on Fire Island in New York. Three weeks of healing on the beach while working my ass off to continue my thru hike. Not bad. Not bad at all. I could take you on that detour of magic and mayhem, of sunsets and storms by the ocean, of 10-12 hour workdays in a sweltering hot kitchen, wearing my boot and cooking for the wealthiest of the wealthy, secret and mysterious boardwalk pathways through dense overgrowth, meteor showers and swimming in the ocean by only the light of the full moon, unrequieted love (not on my part for a change),happiness, comraderie and financial inadequacy. My three weeks of healing and working my ass off on Fire Island were a blur, and when it was time to go and hit the trail again, return HOME to the dense forest…the pathway led by the light of the white blaze, I moved on, took the ferry from the island, watched that tiny but explosive time in my life slide away, disappear, move to the darkened banks of the river  of my memory.
   
    
      (Brief glimpse into the life on fire island) 

          -I slowly made my way up to Maine. I’ve been here before. I thought I knew it so well. Maine was a gateway to nature for me in my early 20’s. My best friend is a Maine native. He and his family and friends are the salt of the earth, the heartiest of our species. Nothing can stop a Mainer from living, from working and from steering the boat of humanity through the worst of the storms, the most destructive of weather. Maine has always, in my heart, been a rugged place that produces the most rugged of people. That being said, I was extremely excited to live outside in this great state and also scared to fucking death.
  

   I summited Katahdin, the final obstacle of the Appalachian Trail, the end all be all, the goal, the finish, the literal top of the mountain. And I stood on the sign, and instead of this being my completion of the trail, it would be yet another beginning, another cycle, another attempt for me to make my time with this trail, to exist on it, to be a part of it, to hope that by god, it would actually let me be a part of it. I climbed up and over and explored the knife’s edge. I reached the base of the mountain on the other side later that night, and I found my partner in town, in Millenocket even later that night. I fell asleep next to him after excitedly catching up, scared to death and excited beyond belief even later than later that night.

   When morning came I knew that it was time to move. Back to the trail. Back to the forest. No more excuses. No more rest. No more mending. It was just the place I was supposed to be.

  I most certainly wasn’t in shape and my foot wasn’t at 100 percent. We had 6 days of food and 110 miles to hike to get back to civilization.  I was entering the 100 mile wilderness with someone I sincerely look up to and actually don’t know that well. I put the pack on, opened my head and heart as much as possible and tried to grab the reigns of my anxiety. Onward and upward as Sarah Sanders likes to say. 

  

    
        (Heading into the 100 mile ) 

     Walking into the 100 mile wilderness I knew that really there was no turning back. The dense maine forest pulled me in. Sunlight soaked everything. The pine needle floor was soft and comforting. I followed Ryan “Rock Ocean” Welty down the path, further in. We walked until the end of the day and ate dinner in the dark. We drank tea and talked about possibilities for the following day. Partnerships can be complicated. They usually take sacrifice and a give and take. Both Rock Ocean and I are independent yet empathetic. In my mind I supposed I imagined a jumbled mess of communication that sounded something like ” what do you want to do? No what do you want to do?”  Somehow we naturally moved into position. We both had to transition into thru hiker mode. He’s a far stronger hiker than I am, but I’m stubborn. He was so immediately accommodating and positive. We moved into Maine together and separate. The 100 mile wilderness took it’s toll on me. I couldn’t see most of the time (glasses fogged, steamed), I got a UTI and peed blood, had my period and well…my foot, my foot. 
     The terrain was rugged, muddy and just plain crazy. I’d be climbing straight up wet rocks and wet exposed roots just to climb down the same. I got sucked knee deep into a mud bog one morning, pulling myself out with the help of some blueberry shrubs. I’ve fallen face first, on my ass and straight up skidded across a wet wooden plank bridge. Maine doesn’t give a shit about me. It reminds me daily that I don’t matter, that I’m lucky to exist here in this world, that any problem I’m having with the terrain is really just something internal that I don’t like about myself. If I can accept myself then and only then can I enjoy the unforgiving very raw beauty that is Maine. An entire barrage of terrible cuss words flies from my mouth on a daily basis as I tromp through water, fetid smelling mud and slippery everything. My feet are never dry and when it rains , it rains. Nothing can dry out here in the green tunnel. Everything is moist. The forest is constantly breathing it’s hot humid breath down my neck, my back, my chest-Permeating everything. In this place I see my weakness, my thin skin, my impatience. 

   
    (Maine. Maine.maine) 

         I’m “home”. I’m here with one of the most beautiful and pure human beings I’ve found along the way. He teaches me daily, allows me to be, and shares his calm and his sheer appreciation with me. He does not see my weakness as an albatross, rather he gives me the chance to learn to take flight, to navigate the mental limits I create, to keep moving, hoping and crushing. I’ve laughed harder than I have in awhile. I look forward to each morning and although I’m struggling to adapt physically and mentally at times, I’m aware that I create these hardships. I’m excited to keep trying, keep walking and climbing and trudging. I’m grateful to open my heart and mind with a true friend as well, because this navigation of actual human love is just as hard as the terrain for me. My partner, my friend, my teacher is opening the pathways to most things I’ve shut down. And I can breathe. And maybe, just maybe I’ll make it further than I expect. 
   
    (It’s good to have a good partner-Rock Ocean always comes correct) 

    Tomorrow I head back into the dense trees, the mud, the rivers to ford. Ill climb bigger mountains and feel the rugged fierce pulse of Maine. I’m about 150 miles in. Heading southbound for the first time. Let’s see how far I can push it. Hopefully further than I ever have. 

Let the circle be unbroken (but not the bone) 

  
   I guess it’s time for an update. Since I wrote last my path has been changed greatly, which I suppose is to be expected of the trail. I’m not writing while zeroing in a small town off the swath of dirt and rock that I follow everyday but rather in my home city of Philadelphia. Two weeks ago I injured myself pretty good, well, pretty bad I guess. After one of the most amazing weeks on the trail spent with possibly one if the best groups of people I’ve traversed with, I broke my foot unbeknownst to me. And so here I am writing to you from my parent’s backyard. 

  
   I’ve been injured before on the trail. I nursed a pretty hefty groin pull on the PCT last year and suffered some IT band issues and shin splints like I’ve never experienced. On the AT I felt a lot of foot pain a lot of the time and luckily until two weeks ago didn’t have any serious physical problems. The trail is hard. It’s hard on the body. I felt as though I was finally beginning to find a rhythm and acceptance of physical pain and mental self deprication. My friends and I were doing a lot of long days. And although they felt hard, the brotherhood of our friendship seemed to allow me to perservere. The morning I woke up in such agonizing pain, I did what I usually do. I tried to walk it off. That day I found the limit of pain I could take and after 25 miles I knew I had to stop. 

  
     I want to take you back to before that day, because I think the brotherhood of the trail is so important to talk about. On the trail you meet so many amazing and wonderful people. They seem to ebb and flow daily. It is when you find those that you wish to never leave that the brotherhood begins. I feel like it’s almost comprable to falling in love,you just know. I’d been with Yogi for hundreds of miles already. Everything with him was always magic, and it was easy and it was love. I felt safe and always happy with him in a sense. We worked well together. I think we both yearned for something new and exciting and when Space Cadet and Ganja Man came into our world everything changed. It expanded. And there was a light that was brought about that I’m still trying to process. We were all just very close and it became apparent that we wanted to walk together for a spell. 

  
     When you connect with certain people in life it’s as if time comes to a halt without you noticing. The world around me began to look different and almost even, more beautiful. These two guys would change my perception more than I could see on the trail. Our friendship and closeness was something I’ve never had in such a capacity. I genuinely looked forward to all of my moments with them. We walked through some of the most hellacious weather and had some of the nicest days . Their voices and laughter still bring a smile to my face as I miss them now . I guess it just wasn’t my time. But I’m grateful for their love and for the way they opened my eyes and really, my heart. Nothing is permanent and change is constant but the effect some people can have on you can be everlasting. I almost wanted to keep going, destroy myself just to stay with them as long as I could. But I couldn’t. 

  
  

  

  As I’m sitting here in the city I grew up, I’m homesick. I miss the trail everyday and am bombarded with social media assaults of all of my friends still crusading the ever present white blaze pathway. It’s hard to be constantly updated on their observations, their struggles and their discoveries out there, at home. I look at photographs, read descriptions and see the dynamics change. In two weeks I can see physical changes in their bodies. Two weeks of trail life is equivalent to maybe three months of “real” life. At this point everything I was doing has been deconstructed for so many reasons. When I’m able to get back on (hopefully in one week) I’m essentially going to be starting all over. And alone. 

  
     Right up until I broke my foot things seemed to be moving forward. I was doing mostly big miles and I was spending a good amount of time laughing, learning and becoming more in tune with the trail. The things that bothered me weren’t as much of a nuisance and the things I loved were becoming numerous. The rain still kicked my ass but with my brotherhood it was more tolerable. My bretheren and I spent a particularly life changing Nero in a field, relaxing, drying out all of our gear and just lounging around enjoying the day. We shared a connection that day that will stay with me always. We transcended space and time and that day felt like a multitude of days filled with light and color and love…and change. I remember thinking when we fell asleep that night that everything would be different after that day. Call it a gut feeling, but i just knew I’d have to hold onto that time for the time it was. 

  
  I woke up the following morning and left before everyone else. The first six miles were liberating and sweaty and lovely. I wanted to just climb alone, and go alone and be alone and find my companions later. Ganja Man caught me first and I knew he’d surpass me. And he did. And he was beginning to find his own rhythm. I broke my foot later that day, trying to catch up and keep pace when I most likely couldn’t. And I didn’t even know. I walked 25 miles the next day on it, and the first 11 were painful but the last 13 were downright brutal. Feeling pain and dealing with it are one thing, knowing something is wrong is something else entirely. Accepting it is the hardest part. I accepted it and my friends supported me in the worst of it. They stayed with me and lost miles because of me. I have never been able to ask for help or show such weakness in front of people in such a way and they made me feel validated and strong. They helped me. They watched me cry. They refused to leave me. They taught me so much with such simple gestures of love and kindness. They allowed me to accept the fact that I couldn’t keep going. And so I didn’t. 

  
    Coming home was probably the hardest thing I’ve had to do in awhile. After being out on the trail, in such immense beauty, surrounded by lush vegetation, the elements, and the never ending chatter of birds talking always, the last place I wanted to be was a massive, surging, sweaty, struggling, oppressive metropolis. Philadelphia is a sprawling city. It has a meaty beating heart and half functioning organs in a giant dysfunctional body. I spent most of my life here and my relationship with it could be described as less than healthy. I’ve always said it’s like being involved in an abusive relationship. This city loves me and beats the fuck out of me. It builds me up, so swollen full of love and then smacks me down hard and breaks my heart. It’s a bipolar mess for me. So manically up and so destructively down. I know every part of it, and I move across it like a familiar lover touches every part of their partner’s body. Gliding across North Philadelphia on the elevated train still brings me close to god in a way that I cannot describe properly with words. I know every street, every smell, every too loud sound. I feel like a ghost here. Bodies move past me quickly. Everything is too much. There is too much pain. It’s too much. So much suffering. So much everything. After my introverted masochistic but retrospective time on the trail I felt so lost and confused. My senses weren’t prepared. I was overwhelmed. 

  
    I was so happy to see my “actual” family. I was happy to see my friends. But my heart felt empty. I longed to be back to the day when time stopped. To the nights falling asleep with my trail family. I wanted to walk through the forest every day and not know exactly what to expect even though i knew exactly what to expect. Coming back to this mayhem and being immobilized was pretty much the exact opposite of the reality I had come to know. It was honestly just devastating. I tried to look on the bright side. I spent much needed time with my parents and siblings. I revisited painful pieces of my past and put them behind me. I saw people I love and told them so. And I rested. Which is the hardest part I guess. I tried to make my body be idle. 

  
After hiking 20 plus miles a day, to suddenly STOP is a shock to the system. I literally had a hard time sitting still. My limbs for the first week felt restless and almost uncomfortable. It actually hurt to sit still. I couldn’t sleep. I felt anxious and almost sick. I’m so lucky too, I have so many people in my life who just wanted to see me. But. I. Was. Depressed. I couldn’t relate to so much of being here anymore and I’d find myself daydreaming about being back on the trail. Man. I was fucking everything up. How people didn’t just slap me in the face was beyond me. I’m injured but my life isn’t over. And people love me. And my life is pretty great. And SHUT THE FUCK UP. 

  
   I started riding the train all the way from the beginning to the end, to pass the time, to make sense, the watch the light change. I watched people and their faces. I got lost in them. I made up stories about them. I visited my friends. I slept in beds, on couches and on the floor. I fantasized about sleeping on park benches just to sleep outside. I went to church. I prayed to god. I kept going. Today I went fishing. 

  
    I have one week to find out my fate. If they tell me my foot is better (which was my orthopedic’s plan), then I go back out onto the trail on Saturday. I’ll start in Pennsylvania and keep moving north to Katahdin and make up the miles back to where I got off (Pearisburg, Virginia) from Pennsylvania. If my foot is still broken. If my foot is still broken. Man. If my foot is still broken. Well. I have to stay off of it another three weeks. And I’ll get back on at the end of July in Katahdin. And I’ll southbound all the way back to Virginia. Not the end of the world but certainly a drastic change in plans. And monetarily I have yet to figure out how the hell I’m going to make that work. I worked my butt off all winter for this thru hike. And after not working, not hiking and paying out of pocket for a broken foot, well, you know. You know. 
    But things always happen for a reason. I’m trying to be productive here. I’m trying to be positive. I’m “home” but i just want to be home. I know this sounds slightly depressing but I guess it’s just how I feel right now. I’m not down or sad or anything really. I’m just waiting. I miss the blaze. I miss the trees. I miss my friends out there. But I’m not there. So I’ll be here. And I’ll be grateful for all that I have (which is alot). And I’ll keep riding the train and walking the grid and listening to the sounds and feeling the sweat and hoping for the best possible outcome this Thursday. I’m going to finish the AT this year. It just depends on when. 

13 days out and going back 

  

  
  im at mile 468.8, sitting in the library in Damascus Virginia. My free internet session is just time ticking down, and as per usual, I feel like I have no time to rest. The last time I wrote this blog was my last “Zero”, a day of rest, of hiking no miles. I’ve been hiking a good average of 19 miles a day. Some days I hike roughly 18 and some days 25. Yesterday I hiked 27 miles straight to get to here, to Damascus. In the time that has passed since I last updated this (13 days) alot has happened.

     Time on the trail is so strange and almost nonsensical. Days blend into one another and it’s common to not know the day of the week and especially not the actual date. I hardly ever really know the exact time of day and here in the green tunnel it’s especially hard to know the time of day because the light is never direct and there is almost always cloud cover anyhow. After I last wrote, I spent the night in the oldest building in Hot Springs, NC. It was an old mansion filled with antique furniture, past lives peeling from the walls, ghostly footsteps creaking on the worn floorboards. I dreamt so hard that night there as I lay in the massive bed. I wandered through all of my thoughts and fears. I adventured through forests and old houses with maps promising treasure and answers. Each door I walked through and each tree I pulled aside brought me back to people I’ve met, to places I’ve been, to memories real and made up. I felt as though I had time traveled. When I awoke the next morning to the bright light in the faded room,to the heavily used chairs and desk looking tired and almost like a congregation of the elderly starting and forgetting conversations, I felt like something had changed. 

   

   
             

     When we left Hot Springs that afternoon I left something behind. I felt good and I felt nervous and I felt challenged. I also felt almost unreal. Staying at Elmer’s Hostel was like a hallucination. All of my daydreaming was still fresh in my head. I was happy to walk in my body. My partner (Yogi) and I climbed high above the French Broad River, up passed Lover’s Leap, up the rock switchbacks and into the tunnel. We were promised good weather and the late noon sun pushed through the trees in rays and splatters triumphantly. I felt so warm, so safe. I felt like a child exploring with nothing but wonder. Even with a full resupply my bag didn’t bother me. We had the full intent of hiking into the night. We were hoping to get 19.8 miles in. We both laughed easily and climbed and moved into the dense trees. I was sweating and along the ridges, soft summer breezes filtered in, cooling me momentarily. My body felt stronger and I didn’t have the normal anxiety I feel when I am leaving a town. I didn’t count the miles. I didn’t think of my steps, or of being tired. We stopped to eat dinner with a fellow hiker friend at a shelter and pushed on as the end of the day was lazily making it’s way to us in the tunnel. All of the shades of green darkened. My mood calmed ever more as trees and shrubs and features became silohetted in the dying light. The little puzzle pieces of sky I could see through the canopy were bruising, to a dark bluish purple. I could hear our footsteps and I could hear Yogi’s breathing close to me when we paused in our conversation. Sometimes it seemed as though hours had passed as we would drop off in talking. We’d go into our own heads. I was asleep walking. 

    
     We were supposed to walk 6 miles after the sun had left us in the moist, cool dark forest. We turned on our headlamps and I felt like I could sleepwalk forever. There was no realization of time or tiredness or anything really, just my imagination and Yogi’s voice in the early summer evening. I felt like I was in a fairytale, lost somehow, waiting for a gingerbread house, or a witch, or dwarves. As we climbed through the thicket of rhodedendrons Yogi told me to turn off my headlamp. He was excited and I couldn’t place why until my eyes adjusted. The air felt cooler and my sense of anything around had been lost. All I could see was the yellow blinking of hundreds of fireflies floating around us. I could only hear the wind in the trees, faintly whistling. The fireflies seemed to be singing in Morse Code. They moved slowly, bobbing. I felt briefly that we were floating in space and that I was surrounded by stars. It was the first time I felt moved almost to tears because I was a part of something I didn’t understand. It was one of the most beautiful and quiet moments I’ve cataloged in my existence. We turned our headlamps back on and walked deeper into the night. We came to a road and a flat area just before the trail looked to ascend. In this clearing we turned off our lamps again and stood in wonder as the fireflies lazily swam in the air, blinking on and off, whizzing by our faces like drunken astronauts. We decided to stop there next to the road so that we could fall asleep to the nightlights. I lay my bedroll out on the ground next to Yogi. I felt so sleepy and childish. When I drifted off to sleep the fireflies were still wandering around. they were in front of my face. They told me to go to sleep, to not worry. I felt grateful again. So grateful. My home is where I lay my head. And as I walk every single day, I rest my head somewhere new. We missed roughly two and a half miles of our goal, but we made it up the next day. We were on a mission to get to Erwin Tennessee to see my good friend Curtis. We had a time limit and good weather. I carried those little fireflies with me and even when I saw them blinking again another night it wasn’t the same. 

The forest, this trail, although it always looks the same upon a quick glance, or an angry, exhausted death march, changes. When you spend every single day in the green tunnel, you begin to see the differences. They are small at first. Orange newts on the path like flourescent sprinkles on a brownie, little snails inching away in their soft shell homes, stinging nettles clumped together playing an uninvited game of tag, beautiful quaint springs and falls, tumbling and churning the coldest, purest water you could ask for and birds, my god, the birds all singing their songs. As you climb down lower in elevation the entire forest is dense and thick and warm and moist. You can almost SEE it breathing. Up higher, there seems to be slightly more space as the older trees spread out with skinny arms. The rhodedndron pulls you into it’s deep cool tunnel. The flowers are quaint and tiny but demanding of attention. Sparce fungi creeps out of the wettest little pockets it can find. The way to Erwin was a welcoming of a lush world. Almost like a snowglobe filled with the dense hydrated ecosystem of the jungle…shook up and kept pristine, in its own primitive place and time. We arrived at the Nolichucky River as guests to my friend Curtis England. I’d worked with him years ago in Alta and was lucky enough to be recieved by him, in his world on the Nolichucky River. He’s been living there and guiding there for 6 years. When I met him five years ago in snowy Alta, Utah I’d listen to him talk about this glorious river in Erwin Tennessee. The way he described it always stayed with me and I always hoped that I’d at some point in my life be lucky enough to spend time with him there, in that beautiful place he’d spoken so amorously of. 

    Seeing him was really something special. He literally walked to me in the woods, and I was so happy to hug him. He looked happy, and he looked amazing. And I already upon seeing him for the first time in a long time didn’t want to leave so quickly the next few days. He drove us to his home and told us of the properties and the land along the way. I was immediately reunited with the way that Curtis talks, the way he is, and it felt like returning home in a sense. I felt so welcome and comfortable in his world and it felt lovely. 

  
   He is a manager for the Nantahala Outdoor Center and so he manages river guides on the Nolichucky River, a beautiful and pristine swollen snake of a river with class three and four rapids. He lives there, right on the river in a cabin. He offered us up our own rooms in guide housing. It was the most spoiled I’d felt since The Thompsons let me go on my way to walk this trail. Curtis gently asked if Yogi and I would like to float the river in an hour, to experience it at the end of the day. We were both excited to go for another adventure even though we had just hiked 17 miles to get there. Happily, Curtis prepared us to float the river. His gracious and kind girlfriend Kim was going to accompany us and assist Curtis. We drove up the winding mountain road up past Indian Grave Gap as both Curtis and Kim explained the land to us, the history and the ecology. Their love of this area was so evident. It was infectious and I couldn’t help but breathe it in and feel prideful. The smell of the river was heavy in the air and I took it in. We drove to the put in and carried the boat to the water. I nervously climbed in and as we all took our places Curtis took command and very naturally, slightly sternly, and of course in his own sense of humor kind of a way explained the rules. I immediately felt safe and secure as he navigated us down the river, taking us through some tumbling, rushing rapids, smoothly executing every move through each whitewater thruway. He had some fun with us, knowing we weren’t fully comfortable and surfed us on some rapids. He expertly showed us the secrets of his home and as he explained the river his eyes seemed to dance. His words were almost smiling. I felt as if I was recieving a secret esoteric treasure and my gratitide was almost painful as I took in this gift that he was so selflessly giving me. We arrived back at the NOC and I was almost sad to get back to land. It was so nice to be there in his world, in the place he’d so aptly described. 

       

    I spent an evening with him on the front porch of the common area cabin and we listened to the river talking it’s talk. We ourselves talked for so long. Curtis an I sharing thoughts and memories. I was so happy to be able to travel through his massive web of stories. His words and the rhythm of his cadence taking me in and out his thoughts and imagination. I could’ve sat on that porch a long time, drinking in that time with him and listening to the river. He gave me quite a time. 

 

  

    When I woke up the next morning I did not want to go. I stubbornly left the bunkhouse. I wasn’t ready for the day. I wanted to stay there and keep learning all of the secrets of that place. It’s not my place to stay and so I trudged on into the day. 

  Again, whenever I leave a town after a resupply, it feels as if a new phase has begun. This was the third push, the push to Damascus. It was a long and hard push to complete another state and it would be the most challenging and devastating push so far. 

My first day out of Erwin was actually a nice one. It was painless and up and down and, well, beautiful. We climbed into the jungle, up into a drier forest, past Indian Gap where we recieved trail magic which included brownies, an iced tea party and the lovely company of our good friend Jigsaw, an intelligent smart-ass quick talking, super strong hiking lady. I was also lucky enough to get one more hug from Curtis who was driving up to retrieve the van we’d left up to float the river. We climbed alot that day but it seemed easy behind Jigsaw. She made me feel strong and free and light. We easily reached our little hovel of a shelter and ate dinner. As we all lay there together we laughed over silly things. I felt like a child with my siblings and as we drifted off to sleep the rain came down so heavy. It poured relentlessly as i came in and out of sleep. I woke up itching my bug bites and feeling uncomfortable. I slept terribly and when the early light of morning came I didn’t want to get out of my sleeping bag. That next day would be long and hard for me. It would be the beginning of a lot of discomfort. We had to climb Roan Mountain and we’d decided to stay at the shelter up on top (the highest shelter on the AT) so that we could stay with Jigsaw and also to make our day a little easier. We began the day easy enough, seemingly crushing miles quickly. As we began our long ascent, the rain came, and it came hard. It was cold and hard and demoralizing as I climbed. I was soaked to the bone and had misjudged our placement, thinking I had much more climbing than I actually had. I cursed angrily and loudly as we ascended. It seemed never ending as the rain just kept coming, seemingly harder and harder as we climbed ever higher. I felt so defeated and so cold. My body wanted warmth, and comfort, and dryness. It wanted food. I knew I was going to get to a cold shelter and have to strip down, put on my “dry” clothes which never seem to be fully dry because we are traversing through a temperate rain forest and wait the longish time to get warm because my body is stubborn. 

      Just as I was about to give up and cry, we were nearly to the top. The rain let up briefly and I was walking through a ghostly world of dead and naked trees flanked by dense firs and spruces. The trail went from a soft bed of pine needles to sharp, unforgiving, higher elevation rocks, which led us again into a misty pine world. I was nearing the summit of Roan and it sincerely felt as though we were beginning a journey so similar to the lord of the rings. 

  We reached the shelter and took the top loft area. The shelter in and of itself was closed, meaning there were four walls. It was not open-ended like many of the other shelters on this trail. Just as we took our wet things off and tried to make a home for the evening, the real rain came. And it just didn’t stop. I felt the familiar panic of having hypothermia in washington come on. I felt scared and sad and tired. I made no sense and whined like a baby as Jigsaw and Yogi tried to help me. I took benedryl and drifted off into sleep. I slept horribly, dreading the rain and the next 25 mile day, which was also promising rain. I just felt so sad. 

     When I got up the next morning I tried to have an open mind. And I got ready in the loft, putting on my wet clothes, my wet socks. Everything smelled so terrible. Everything felt horrible. But I just had to put it on and get ready to go and walk for 25 miles. It would actually be 25 of the most beautiful miles I would be lucky enough to walk through on the AT. And truly, it would be closer to 26. 
    My time here in the library is winding down. I have to cut this short. Yogi and I aren’t planning on another actual zero for a long time. So god knows when I get to post again. I’ll try to do it from the trail. My service is almost nonexistent and we are pushing yet again…but I owe you the story of the lush open balds I walked though, reminiscent of the highlands of Scotland, the Story of Scotty, an amazing physics professor living off the grid in the middle of nowhere I met one day, the graveyard we walked past in the walking dead world and my broken glasses, my broken partner puking his everloving brains out next to our shelter and the insane 27 mile walk into Damascus. 

   It’s all a long walk. Pray it doesn’t rain as much as it’s supposed to this week (6 days in a row). Im happy to be here and happy that time is irrelevant. This place and this choice I’ve made is all a balance of what I perceive to be comfortable and good. In the words of someone so very dear to me….”Everyting is Niiiice.” 

Thanks for reading this. You’re all with me in this insane one foot in front of the other game. 

Southern comfort 

    

 
 I feel overwhelmed often as I am living this life, the trail life. People always ask me why I would choose to walk every day, why I would choose to live outside, be filthy, push my body and mind to the point of discomfort and exhaustion. They want to know why I would choose to be poor, to be alone. They ask where I go to the bathroom, how long I go without showering and what I do in the rain. They scrunch their noses when I tell them about packing out my shitty toilet paper. They look confused when I tell them that I weep when I am looking at beauty that I cannot comprehend. The truth is, this is becoming more what I understand every day. After hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, I felt I had to return “home”, to the trail. Being out here day in and day in and day out is a privledge that I try to pay respect to. 

  
   The challenges I curse are a blessing and even as I am cursing loudly I am trying to be thankful. I awaken each morning looking forward to putting one foot in front of the other, excited to see what the day will provide. I get frustrated at times because when I am tired things begin to look the same, the mountains are blue and green, I am in a tunnel of vegetation. Rhodedendrons seem to welcome me at every summit. But with each exhale as I climb, with each little stream of sweat that pours down my face, each inch of dirt under my nail, I am reminded of my freedom. I am grateful for that freedom and I try to unwrap and untangle it. All of the feelings I experience on a daily basis feel like a mass welling up in my chest. Like the most intense and confusing love. I feel blinded at times and I have to stop and listen and try to pay attention to only small things so I can come back. I am consistently enveloped and safe in the embrace of the ever moist forest. My feet traverse over a trail of rock, root and decomposing leaves and pine needles. Sometimes as I count my steps I get lost in the most beautiful memories. I can hardly believe those memories are my life, that I have been blessed enough to see the places i’ve seen, loved the people I’ve loved and been loved by. Sometimes pain fills my heart, and I am forced to feel all of it, to the point that I cry, to remember it and re-live it is to accept it. And I feel it melt away as I push onward, and I am so grateful for my surroundings for taking it away from me and allowing me to be lighter. Out here it’s ok to love so much it hurts. It’s ok to give thanks almost every second, and it’s ok to be angry and to yell. And when things don’t seem to be the way I want them to be, it’s just because I’m not the way I want me to be. And I am lucky, because I just have to keep walking amongst these trees, and these green and blue mountains. And i am filthy, and I am poor. But I am always awake. And I’m learning. 

    

     
  The Appalacian Trail provides an intimacy I haven’t yet felt. It forces me to face aspects of myself I have been avoiding for so long. It shows me the smallest of treasures. It demands me to slow down and pay attention to the smallest details. Even as I look into the faces of the people I meet, I take more time now to watch their mouths move, listen to the tone of their voice, make communion with their presence. The birds wake me up in the morning and I often wipe my eyes and take in my world before first light. I can smell the dank dampness always, and climb out of my wet sleeping bag and stretch out, preparing to uncover something new. Cool breezes usually motivate packing and walking…and steamy sweat coats me as I watch the sun rise through the dense trees or on the horizon depending on where I slept. I can hear everything at this time. The light is so subtle. This is one of my favorite times. All of my senses are heightened and my body is warming up. Miles slide by quickly. In a sense this is like going to church for me. It is here, in these quiet moments in the trees, on the ridge, that I pray, that I give thanks, that I feel gratitude.

     I’m now about 275 miles in. I am so happy to have so many more miles to walk. It’s not always easy, I am not always aware, and I am certainly angry at times, but i am always, always humbled. 

   There are many things I haven’t talked about. I have a wonderful hiking partner named Stephen (Yogi) Newman. He has become such a great friend and teacher. I’m so lucky to have met him. He is a constant reminder to keep moving, to laugh and to experience everything. He helps me to relax, he points out what I don’t see and he is selfless and giving. He’s also extremely frugal, which is what I need to learn. I enjoy my days with him and am so grateful to share this time however long it lasts, with him following behind. I have met some of the most interesting people, on the trail and in the towns i have passed through. Most people it seems want to give. They want to share stories, they want to share food. it seems that everyone wants everyone to succeed, to feel good, to be fed. Each town I move through provides it’s own little satchel of a memory to carry and unwrap as I climb back up into the dense trees, into the wet greenery of home. I’m living in the biggest compost pile on earth. It’s remarkable to be a part of such constant decomposition and rebirth. This really is the most beautiful place of worship. 

There is a place

I’m sitting by a fire with a group of men and boys. I’m in North Carolina. The miles somehow slide by and I don’t say that easily. Days are long. I climb and my body feels heavy and unnecessary. This is what I’ve chosen. What all of us have chosen. The sky is full of all of the broken diamonds of stars. I should be asleep after 17 miles of rough and tumble ups and downs, noteworthy climbs and decents, hard breathing and 100 percent mostly pain . This trail is so different. So lonesome and unforgiving. There is almost always no reward of a vista or view . The only validation is a completion of a climb…and that climb leads to a dense tunnel at the top of a mountain of rhododendron. This is a place of mental and physical reckoning, a proving ground for every hope, fear, doubt and god damn belief in magic and alchemy. I have given up on all of my anxieties because here there is no place. This perhaps…is just the way it’s supposed to be day by day. 

   On the PCT I had a strange comfaderie. Here, every single moment it earned. Each breath is hard. I awaken before the sun rises every morning. I’m cold and slow and confused. And I’m lucky enough to walk. The birds all sing the songs I cannot decipher but am lucky enough to hear. Their language is all their own, their songs bright and loud. Shrieking but quiet. The red ball of the life force rises and illuminates everything, the path, the white blaze, the plants and trees ever abundant in the green tunnel, the massive clouds lining glacial carved mountains ever beneath me. This quiet time in the morning pushes me. This is what makes me climb into the oppressive midday climb…the painful sweaty descent. I’m hiking long miles fairly fast but it still isn’t easy. This is my home and my reality. I could quit and work a job and go to the beach. But I don’t want that. I want the pain. I want the agony. I want the magic. I have the key. I just have to unlock the door. I just have to find the door.  

109.6 miles and counting

 

  Almost one week ago I started my second thru hike. Almost one year ago today I began my first on the Pacific Crest Trail. I was introduced to a world that really and truly changed me. In a sense, returning to the trail albeit a far different trail felt so much like returning home. Winter seemed to slide by for the most part. I found myself returning to the same old habits I’d worked so hard the previous summer to cut back on or cut out. Needless to say, I began at mile 0.0 completely and utterly out of shape. The only real tools I seemed to have were some muscle memory and the mental preparedness for what I was about to endure. The trail brought me back and true to form I had some beautiful foreshadowing of the characteristics of trail life.

  The trail breathes giving, gratitude and…well…magic. Three days prior to my start I was picked up by a car at the greyhound station in Atlanta and taken to Suwanee Georgia where I was spoiled rotten by people I had only met briefly during my winter job in Alta, UT. The Thompsons and their friends and family helped me prepare, fed me, pampered me and made sure I was happy, charged and filled with goodness. Their kindness and selfless giving reminded me of all that I gave and received on the PCT. It was a good thing to put in my mental pack. I felt grateful and undeserving and so ready to start walking. 

   The night before I was to leave I felt nervous and scared. In the pit of my stomach I almost felt lost and questioned myself over and over as I laid in a bed that was not my own. Just as the doubt was sinking in my phone rang. It was a friend I’d made on the PCT. I hiked with her on and off. I could barely keep up with her clip out there in the Sierra. But she was a beautiful person. everytime I’d see her I felt inspired to push. I knew she was also beginning the AT, but was unsure when. I suppose I figured we’d catch each other out there in the green void…somewhere. 

    Her phone call was to the point.  “Kimchi? It’s storybook. Where are you? When are you starting?” I answered the following day to which she asked again where I was and basically informed me that she would be picking me up and we could start together.  She’s not a demanding or direct person so I was surprised by her candid forward ness and took it as a sign that I should agree. I tried to sleep my last sleep in a comfortable bed and prepare myself for seeing A)Seeing Storybook again and B)knowing I’d have to try to keep up with her while I C) hiked another long trail. I finally drifted off, letting myself relax and take in all of the good fortune, the beginning of the magic. 

  We started together one week ago at Springer Mountain ( the southern terminus) in Georgia. My pack felt heavy with my whole life inside of it …the weight alone of five days of food was a burden in and of itself. The knowledge that I would be pushing my body to the brink everyday was building anxiety with each step. We signed the register and with unsure legs I just began moving, one foot in front of the other as the realization set in that for the next 5 months I would be walking everyday for roughly 10 hours a day. 

   The weather was beautiful. The Chatahoochie Forest smelled beautiful. I followed Storybook’s happily bouncing backpack into the trees, onto the trail and into Georgia.

   I’m now 109.6 miles in and I really have to fully update you on this week but I’m exhausted. (I hiked a 20 mile day and hitch hiked into Franklin NC to resupply). I just wanted to give you something . 

   I’ll try to get up early before we leave to at least update the week. I miss and love you all and apologize for the crappy writing. I’m just so tired. This trail is way harder.  Xoxo 

  

Feels like the first time 

Hey there everyone, I’m going to make this one short and sweet because I’m literally leaving in 15 minutes to begin hiking the Appalachian trail. With the pacific crest trail under my belt, I’ve decided to keep it moving and go for my second through hike. I’m incredibly excited and am working on a few other projects along the way. I’ll be co-hosting a podcast on http://www.soundsofthetrail.com , I’m sponsored by Indie Photo in Philadelphia and will be shooting film on a 35mm camera, sending the film to Indie and selling prints on http://www.kimchiwalks.bigcartel.com, I’ll be writing and shooting for http://www.paradigmmagazine.com and I’ll be working in conjunction with Robert Gonnelli on a photo project that involves me trying to catch him and meet him on the AT (he’s 300 miles ahead of me). I’ll try to update this as often as I can with writing, photos and project updates. Give a follow as I hopefully walk 2130 miles from Georgia to Maine. I certainly apologize for the lack of depth in this first post, but I just wanted to post something! I’m kimchi, I’m stoked, I’m scared and I’m on my way!